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San Salvatore in Lauro

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San Salvatore in Lauro

English name: Holy Saviour at the Laurel
Denomination: Roman Catholic
Built: 12th century, rebuilt in 16th and 19th century
Architect(s): Ottaviano Mascherino, Ludovico Rusconi Sassi
Artists: Pietro da Cortona, Francesco Salviati, Isaia of Pisa
Contact data
Address: 15 Piazza San Salvatore in Lauro
00186 Roma
Phone: 06-68.75.187

San Salvatore in Lauro is a parish and titular church of medieval foundation dedicated to our Saviour Jesus Christ, located in the piazza named after it in the rione Ponte. Pictures of the church at Wikimedia Commons.[1]


The first church was apparently built in the 12th century, since a bull of Pope Urban III of 1186 describes it as dependent on San Lorenzo in Damaso. It was already dedicated to our Saviour by 1192, and was most likely called "in lauro" because of a nearby garden which had a laurel tree growing over its wall. "Lauro" is one tree, not a grove.

It was rebuilt c. 1450 by Cardinal Latino Orsini, who took it over as the chapel of a convent of Augustinian Canons Regular which he had founded next door. Since he came from Venice, he did not introduce Canons of the Lateran , as might be expected, but those from the Venetian congregation of San Giorgio in Alga. The church was burned out in 1591, but the monastery was unaffected. The latter survived until 1668, when Pope Clement IX suppressed the congregation so that the Republic of Venice could convert its resources into cash for its war against the Ottoman Turks. They managed to blow up the Parthenon at Athens in the process. The Roman monastery was initially intended for the Discalced Carmelites, but in 1669 it became the headquarters of the Confraternity of the Piceni, traditionally employed as papal soldiers and tax-collectors and dedicated to Our Lady of Loreto. They paid a large sum of money for it, and converted the convent into a college for the study of law and medicine. Since then, the church has been the regional one for expatriates from Ascoli Piceno in particular and the Marches generally.

After the fire that gutted it, the church was rebuilt in 1594 by the architect Ottaviano Mascherino. However, the interior decoration was left uncompleted until finshed by Ludovico Sassi in 1734. A new façade was provided in the mid 19th century. The convent buildings were taken over by the Italian government after 1870, having been used as barracks during the French occupation. They are now used for exhibitions, as well as for activities associated with the surviving confraternity (now known as a Pious Sodality).

In 1824 the church was made parochial, taking over the parish which used to belong to San Simone Profeta (as a result, the latter building eventually fell into ruin). Unusually, the parish does not have the same dedication as the church it worships in but has the title Santa Maria della Nazione Picenina.

The church was a titular church from 1587 until 1670. Pope Benedict XVI reestablished it as a deaconry in 2007. The current cardinal deacon is Angelo Comastri.


Externally, the church has the plan of a Latin cross superimposed on a rectangle, with very short transepts not

2011 Salvatore in Lauro

extending beyond the lines of the side aisles to the nave. There is a central dome, slightly elliptical, of lead with eight ribs. It sits on an octagonal drum with recessed sides, each with a window, and has a lantern with a ball finial. The roofs of the transepts and short rectangular presbyterium are much lower than that of the nave, and oddly the ridgeline of the latter is actually higher than the drum of the dome. The bell-tower, designed by Nicola Salvi, was added in the 18th century. It is on the far side of the left hand transept, and is a chamfered square tower with a single arched soundhole on each side and an attractive ogee-curved tiled cap. Again there is a ball finial, matching that of the dome.

Salvatore in Lauro

The impressive brick construction of the nave is visible from the piazza on the right hand side. The first storey has an entablature the dentillate cornice of which has a very deep overhang. Above this, massive pilaster buttresses rise to an equally deep cornice on the roofline, and this cornice follows the tops of the buttresses to give a powerful crenellated impression.

The façade was rebuilt entirely in white limestone by Camillo Guglielmetti in a faithful neo-Classical style, 1857-1862. Two Corinthian columns, in the round and detached, support a high, horizontal and shallow monumental porch with a deep entablature. The first storey cornice mentioned above runs around the top of this, and on top is an elaborate papal coat-of-arms. Either side of the entrance on the first storey frontage is a pair of recessed blank panels, a narrow horizontal rectangular one over a large vertical rectangular one. The second storey bears the main feature of the façade, a sculpture by Rinaldo Rinaldi in another rectangular panel of the Madonna of Loreto riding through the sky on the Holy House of Nazareth. A further pair of blank panels flanks this sculpture. The second storey entablature bears a blank triangular pediment, and the frieze of this has a dedicatory inscription Mariae Lauretanae Piceni Patronae. This means "To Mary of Loreto, Patroness of the Picenese" and contains a pun on the name of the church.

A 15th century cloister, among the finest Renaissance cloisters at Rome, can be entered through the sacristy (please ask the custodian) or directly from the street. It was built c. 1450 on orders from Cardinal Orsini as the centre of his monstery, and has arcades for both first and second storeys. The former has delicate arches with Ionic columns, all in grey marble. The second storey arcade has pilasters instead, and is of the following century. The arches, however, match in size to give a pleasing effect. Beyond the cloister is a peaceful courtyard with some fine sculptures, including one of St Peter being set free from prison, placed over the doorway that you enter through; it was originally in the 12th century church at the site. As the cloisters and refectory are at times used for art exhibitions, you may need to pay to get in.


The nave is the work of Mascherino, and immediately recalls the designs of Palladio. There are aisles, but these are divided into chapel niches, four on each side, by blocking walls. Two of these niches are occupied by entrances, leaving three actual chapels on each side. The piers of the arcades are very wide, and in front of each is a pair of monumental grey travertine Corinthian columns which hold up protruding sections of the internal entablature. The latter has a strongly projecting dentillate cornice, and there are thirty-four of these matching columns throughout the church. The roof is barrel-vaulted, and has lunettes. The paintings in the vault are attributed to Salvieti or his pupils. Among the subjects depicted are the Creation of Woman and the Original Sin.

In the first chapel on the left, dedicated to St Peter, is a Liberation of St Peter by Antiveduto Grammatica. This chapel also contains a portrait of St Josemaría Escrivá by the famous contemporary figurative artist Ulisse Sartini in 2009. The second chapel is dedicated to St Joseph, and has SS Joseph, Joachim and Anne by Perleone Ghezzi of 1755. The third chapel is dedicated to St Lutgard, and the altarpiece shows her swapping hearts with Christ. It is by Angelo Massarotti , of 1723.

In the first chapel on the right there is a sculpture of angels by Camillo Rusconi, and a Pietà by Giuseppe Ghezzi of 1712. To the left is depicted St Anthony of Egypt , to the right St Nicholas of Tolentino. Some relics of Pope John Paul II are kept in this chapel. The second chapel is dedicated to St Jude Thaddeus, and the third to the Nativity. The altarpiece here is by Pietro da Cortona of 1669, and here also is a sculpture of Christh with St Pio of Pietrelcina.

The decoration of the dome, presbyterium and transepts is by Sassi. Over the high altar, which is from 1792, there is a reproduction by Francesco Duquesnoy of the venerated image of the Madonna of Loreto in a gloria of angels and clouds. It is older than the altar, and was crowned by the Vatican Chapter in 1644.

The crucifix over the altar in the left transept is a copy of 12th century one venerated at Sirolo. Sirolo is close to Loreto, and it is said that "Whoever goes to Loreto and not to Sirolo, has seen the Mother but not the Son". On the walls of the transepts are two Baroque monuments to cardinals.

If you ask the custodian, you can see the sacristy and the refectory of the monastery. In the refectory is a fresco by Francesco de' Rossi (Il Salviati), painted in 1550, of the Wedding Feast of Cana, and the tomb of Pope Eugenius IV (1431-1447), which was made by Isaia of Pisa between 1450 and 1455, and moved here when the old Basilica of St Peter was demolished. Picture of the tomb. [2]

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